Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ten days in Thailand; Ko Phangan

So we were having a grand ol' time in Bangkok, but the car exhaust and busy city life were far more tiring than we could stand for long. So we decided to head to south to the islands, for the Full Moon Party (a 24 hour beach rave) and some quiet time on a tropical beach.

It was considerably more difficult getting there than we anticipated. From Bangkok, we took a 12 hour train to a little southern town called Surathani, and from there a 2 hour bus ride and yet another 2 hour boat ride. The boat was absolutely crammed beyond capacity with 20-something backpackers all headed to the same island for the party. But the ocean was a welcome sight and just a gorgeous as the postcards;

There were multiple boats all overflowing with European hippies and other extensions of misguided adolescence, all headed to Ko Phangan to destroy its nature with our extravagant western ways. I actually welcomed the opportunity to speak English and French to everyone I met. I didn't really realize how much I missed it. Also, the boats all had hilariously awkward names like "chumpporn" and "poon pol."

Out of sheer ignorance and stupidity, I forgot to bring sunscreen with me. So after 2 hours on a boat in the noon-day sun a couple miles from the equator, I was rather toasted. This set the base for the permanent bright red sunburn I would wear for the rest of my vacation. After that initial boat ride, there was no amount of sunscreen that could shield me from increasing my "Tan." Aloe and moisturizer became very close friends of mine.

When we got there, we had no idea what our hotel would look like or where it was. We just knew it was called "Beer Bungalo" so I just assumed it would resemble a college frat house close to the ocean. It turned out that I have horse-shoes falling out of my ass, because that depiction couldn't have been further from the truth. It was a beautiful little bungalo right on the edge of a private beach with complimentary room service and all the white sand you could stuff into your bikini.

We went to sleep and woke up to the sound of the ocean. We lay on the beach and ate way too much Thai food during the day, and danced and partied the nights away. Freaking paradise.

Eventually we had to return to the real world, but we had the same schlep back. 30 hours of Boats, Buses, Trains, Taxis, Subways later, we finally made it to the airport. But not without a 10 hour stop over in Bangkok again;

Great times.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ten days in Thailand; Bangkok and Beyond

It's been a considerable amount of time since I've updated my blog. I'd like to say that it's because I didn't have access to the internet, or that it was unintentional, but it wasn't. It was truly because I've been far too busy having a life to care. But a byproduct of having somewhat of a life is having a crap load of pictures, which I now feel the need to regurgitate onto the internet like a photography bulimic. So the story begins here; in Bangkok, Thailand.

A couple days before my glorious paid-vacation time at the beginning of August, I felt a driving urge to run away. And so ran away I did; to a beautiful land where food and booze are cheap, and the people are wonderful (yet so very ethically slippery). Thailand also came with gorgeous tropical beaches, but we'll get to that later. We arrived in Bangkok in the evening, and settled in at a quaint little hotel in the downtown core;
It's kind of the biggest building in Thailand. No big deal. We ONLY stayed on the 33rd floor, so we had a semi-fantastic view of the city. Bangkok is a strange mash-up of the obscenely rich and overcompensating, with the dirtiest poorest people in the world. There were rotting slums around every corner, but they were juxtaposed with these stunning gold-encrusted temples and giant mansions. There is absolutely ZERO distribution of wealth in this country. It does make a very interesting experience for the tourist, but it makes the locals seem untrustworthy and devious. And most of them were. Taxi drivers, shop owners and street sellers are always trying to scam the foreigners out of every dollar in their pockets; and they got the better of me a couple of times. None of my stuff was stolen, but my friend had his pockets picked while eating lunch. There goes another brand new cellphone to the black market.

But there were so many beautiful places to see! We ended up spending days just riding around the city in Tuk-Tuks (covered motorcycles with a bench in the back), staring at the scenery. Here we go;

The back of a Tuk-Tuk looks like this;

They drive at whatever speed they feel like, with whatever traffic laws they feel like abiding. There are absolutely NO traffic laws in Bangkok. If there are, they aren't obeyed. Most people prefer motorcycles to cars in the city, since the traffic is so bad that cars can often be stopped for hours in gridlock. People take their whole families on one little motorcycle, and quite often you'll see a small child (with no helmet or protective gear) gripping the back of an adult like a monkey;

If you look closely, there is a small child on the front of that bike just a couple feet from the road and one small jerk away from landing on the unforgiving pavement. On another day, I saw a five year old sitting on the front of her father-of-the-year's motorcycle, and she was ALSO HOLDING A BABY. THE BABY HAD A PLASTIC BAG OVER ITS HEAD, for the rain, of course. This kind of practice is commonplace in Bangkok, but I couldn't help asking myself over and over again; how is there so many of them???

Moving on. Temples and Bhuddas, oh my;

These are only some of the pictures we took in Bangkok, but I'll try to spread them out a little. As I said earlier, there was gold on EVERYTHING. So shiny....

There were also these funny looking bald guys walking around in orange togas.... I was later informed that these were monks. And they're there in abundance;

On one day in particular, we wanted to go to a beautiful temple near the royal palace downtown, so we took a Tuk-Tuk for 60 baht (about 2 dollars) to get there. The driver ended up being a total dick and refused to finish the route on account of traffic being really heavy in the area we wanted to go to. He didn't mention that he was going to drop us off in the middle of a highway intersection, and sticking to his a$shole persona, he left us in the middle of a rainstorm in an area we weren't familiar with. Dick. So we walked in the rain, on the side of a 6 lane highway for 30 minutes, past a sea of cars in total gridlock for miles in all directions. When we finally got to the other side of the exhaust cloud, we saw these guys;

They had blocked off the road for the freaking QUEEN. It was her birthday, and she wanted to ride down the street. I don't have any pictures of the actual queen because I never saw her. There was a brief parade of 10 beige mercedes that blew through the streets at top speed; and then it was over. Very anticlimactic. But I had to admire the soldiers that stood in the rain for hours waiting for their queen to just drive by. That's serious dedication. They almost looked like life-sized plastic g.i. joes, the way they stood at attention motionless and lining the streets.

Thai people are very protective of their King and Queen. It is seriously not cool to make fun of them, or even make negative comments about them. You can get thrown in jail for saying the King's hat looks funny (he likes to wear a cowboy hat a lot, so this can be difficult for some foreigners). You can get your ass kicked by the police for stepping on coins, because they have royal faces on them. And the royal family's pictures are everywhere, usually painted in giant murals at major intersections, or just in beautifully elaborate framed posters.

There was of course, the crazy nights out, complete with insane over-sized cocktails. Not many pictures of that, I'm afraid, since the giant cocktails got the better of me. Most of the drinks there had rum in them, which has a tendency to switch of the fine-motor-control part of my brain, and tricks me into thinking I can dance.

To give you a size reference, that half moon shape in the drink is half of a rather large lime. There was 500ml of alcohol in that drink. It happily fed 4 people.

Although there's amazing local food you can try, there's always junk food available. Have you every tried wasabi flavoured chips? How about lobster flavoured? Yes, they're as disgusting as they sound. Back to the local food for a moment; IT'S FREAKING AMAZING. Stir-frys, noodles, soup, curry, salad, springrolls, rice, icecream, seafood, duck, pork, chicken.... it's all cooked fresh to order and it's all cheaper than anything you've ever had. I ate WAYYYYY too much there, but it was totally worth the sit-ups I'll now have to do everyday for the next 6 months.

More pictures. The last one was a burger joint called 'Santa's'. Needed to share that with the world. Also this;

STRIPPER SHOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For 10 bucks a pair!!! Yes, I bought a pair of stripper shoes (red ones), but I didn't get the ones covered in rhinestones. They were just out of my comfort zone. I'm afraid I might feel a sudden need to grab long metal cylindrical objects for no reason if I put those on. 

And then there were the little things that caught my eye. A creepy poster here, a strange sign there, and these are what most caught my eye;
 That's one of the many thousands of massage parlours. You can pay extra for more "massage" if you like.

 No farting in the cab!
And my personal favourite; a ladies bathroom sign. I seemed to be the only one that even gave this sign a second glance. I really had to go... but I kept a close eye out for any cracks in the walls.

I would like to make a note about the bathrooms and amenities in Thailand, or lack thereof. Let it be known that there are some places had beautiful bathrooms, with three ply toilet paper and automatic facilities. I am truly spoiled in Japan by the sentient waste-receptacles that I've become so accustomed to. Other places in Bangkok looked like they belonged in a 3rd world country. A very uncomfortable common toilet situation consisted of a hole in the ground with a murky bucket of water next to it, which you were expected to use to wash up afterward. EWWWWW. Some places (like the Bangkok train station) you had to PAY to use these "toilets." There also seemed to be a direct  positive correlation between the disgusting "design" of the "toilet" and the complete lack of bowel control the users had on these devices. Lets just say I made a habit of carrying sanitary wipes and napkins with me everywhere. The "toilet" on the train was just a small room in the cabin with a whole in the ground that went straight onto the train tracks. Thailand is not known as a leader in health and sanitation. Or safety. Or hygiene. BUT IT'S SO PRETTYYYY!

So we didn't pet tigers, or ride elephants, or hold snakes, but we DID go to the full moon party in Ko Phangan, which is an island in the south. And that's a story for another day. It's a pretty damn good story, but I'm just too lazy to write about it right now.